Places and people in “Historic Gardens of North Lawndale” video

October 25, 2020 – 2pm

West Gardens map by Odile Compagnon

Program Description

  • Intro description 

This tour of nine beautiful and bountiful community gardens demonstrates how green infrastructure contributes to North Lawndale’s quality of life by improving its Open Space, Water, Soil and Sustainability.

  • Long Description 

North Lawndale residents and community members guide you through nine of the 50+ community gardens that dot their neighborhood, on the West Side of Chicago, where empty lots used to be. These beautiful havens offer neighbors a place to share gardening skills but also an outdoor public ground for peace circles, storytelling, outdoor recess, art, and music events. They speak about the people who have made the rich history of North Lawndale and about those who are steering its community toward a safer, more sustainable future. Each individual garden has its own traits and together they create a new ecosystem at the neighborhood scale, where plants, pollinators, and gardeners help each other, mutually. 

This presentation would not be possible without the legacy of all those who got together in the 1980s and started to transform the lots made vacant by the City of Chicago. Their incredible initiative is illustrated in the video of a North Lawndale Greening Committee Garden Tour that took place in 2007. Produced by Judith Helfand and Rebecca Parrish, it is an homage to the trailblazers who made it possible for the following nine gardens to be what they are today: 

The nine gardens are:

Homan Rails Farm, 910 S. Homan Ave., Chicago, IL 60624. Opened in 2015.

A 2019 Garden Grant recipient, Homan Rails Farm is on an old rail line that once serviced Sears, Roebuck and Co. and is currently managed by Gardeneers, a Chicago nonprofit providing full-service, customized school garden programs. This large green space is approximately 5,000 square feet and includes five hoop houses and ten raised beds. With a mission of serving the North Lawndale community, Homan Rails Farm has created successful collaborations for education, work, and healthy eating. 

PermaPark, 1322 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2018.

The CCA Academy Food Forest, PermaPark generates individual and community wellbeing by creating opportunities to celebrate and learn from the natural world. Permaculture reminds us to take care of each other and our planet, making sure there is enough air, water, land, and food to keep everyone happy and healthy. CCA Academy students, staff, and faculty are using permaculture principles to design their food forest.

PermaPark occupies seven empty lots along Pulaski Road, an important North/South “mile street”. Previously named Crawford Avenue, it used to be lined with two-story brick commercial buildings that included a living unit above the store: a traditional Chicago vernacular commonly built at the end of the 19th century, of which a few examples remain around PermaPark.
CCA Academy maintains a blog providing history and updates on PermaPark.

One Straw Community Garden, 3341 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2012.

The One Straw Community Garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and is a permaculture garden based on the “do nothing” philosophy of Japanese naturalist, Masanobu Fukuoka. His idea was to work with nature instead of against it, doing as little as possible to alter a site and instead tend to a site rather than imposing one’s will onto it. The first third of One Straw is a wild habitat and becomes a more cultivated fruit orchard as one moves towards the rear of the garden. 

One Straw is part of a block-wide revitalization community-led project around three historic grey-stone two-flat buildings along Douglas Boulevard. It is overseen by Annamaria Leon of Homan Grown.

Spaulding Memorial Garden, 1581 S. Spaulding Ave., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2017.

Until a few years ago, the Spaulding Memorial Garden at 16th Street and Spaulding Avenue was just a big vacant lot. Now, it is one of Gardeneers’ North Lawndale school gardens, a sunny, buzzing green space designed to give students in food insecure communities equal access to healthy fruits and vegetables. 

Spaulding Memorial Garden is located on the north side of 16th Street, an East/West “half-mile street.” As such, it used to be lined with proximity retail and commercial buildings which have mostly disappeared due to over fifty years of neighborhood disinvestment. New green infrastructures and ecological landscape are giving 16th Street a new dynamic and help it regain its pedestrian friendliness. As an example, Spaulding Memorial Garden serves as the host site for the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, a community museum in a repurposed shipping container.

Stone Temple Peace Heritage Garden, 3618 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2017.

Beginning in February of 2019, the Chicago Sinai Congregation joined with the Historic Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale to create a community garden and education center.  They have worked with Associate Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick, church elders, and neighbors to transform a neglected city lot near the church into a growing area for organic vegetables and flowers, as well as a community gathering and educational space.  All produce grown is offered at no cost to people from North Lawndale. This has been a joyful endeavor and a close partnership to build colorful raised garden beds. 

The garden is adjacent to the church, located in a historic building that was once a synagogue, the former Anshe Roumania, Shaari Shomayim aka The Romanian Shul, before becoming Stone Temple Missionary Baptist. It hosted Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966. The church building is a designated Chicago Landmark, one of the best preserved of the remaining big North Lawndale synagogues turned churches. 

MLK District Garden, 3732 W. 16th St., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2015.

Residents who participated in a discussion about beautification, clean up and greening initiatives in the neighborhood wanted to see a garden on 16th Street, next to where Martin Luther King lived when he moved to Chicago with his family in January 1966. The MLK District Garden is a permaculture designed space that incorporates production gardens, fruit orchards, and small farm animal management. Proceeds from the sale of produce generated from the garden are used to maintain the horticulture training and development programs that are given at the site to the North Lawndale community at large. The building where Martin Luther King lived no longer exists and was replaced by the Dr. King Legacy Apartments, affordable rental units, and the MLK Fair Housing Exhibit Center, which represent the first phase, designed by Johnson & Lee Architects, of the MLK District built to honor Dr. King’s work to promote fair housing.
MLK District Garden is managed by the North Lawndale Greening Committee.

Betty Swan Community Arboretum, 3840 W. Arthington St., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2000.

Formerly the Arthington Senior Garden, the Betty Swan Community Arboretum is a combination of five vacant lots with an array of shrubs, perennials, and trees. This garden is now a tree park to be used as a “living laboratory” and teaching tool for area school science projects. 

The arboretum is located in the center of a residential street lined with 19th century greystone two-flat buildings, typical of the Chicago West Side neighborhoods. The arboretum is managed by the North Lawndale Greening Committee and protected by NeighborSpace.

Sears Sunken Garden, 899 S. Homan Ave., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 1907.

The Sears, Roebuck and Co. park, commonly known as the “sunken garden,” occupies a rectangular plot along the north side of W. Arthington St. between S. Homan Ave. and S. Spaulding Ave., just north of the former Administration Building and the Printing/Merchandise Development and Laboratory (MDL) Building. The sunken garden was completed around 1907 shortly after Sears’ North Lawndale complex opened. It received Historic Landmark status from the City of Chicago in 2014 and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The centerpiece of the garden is its Classical-inspired pergola, located along the north edge of the garden and symmetrically aligned with the Administration Building’s main entrance just south of the garden. The pergola centered within the sunken garden was designed by Nimmons & Fellows as part of the Sears campus. Its wood beams are supported by colonnades of Doric columns and balanced at each end by two Doric temple pavilions clad in white stucco and topped with red clay-tile roofs. The pergola remains intact, as do the garden’s original concrete planting urns that mark entries to the garden. Though the garden’s original fountains and ponds have been filled in, surviving original concrete walks and flower bed locations still express the garden’s original design, which Nimmons thought important to the quality of life of Sears, Roebuck and Co. employees.

The Sears Sunken Garden is managed by the Foundation for Homan Square.

African Heritage Garden, 1245 S. Central Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2001.

The African Heritage Garden is located on a parcel comprising four city lots at the corner of South Central Park Avenue and 12th Place in North Lawndale. The development of the African Heritage Garden began on March 28, 2001 with a community wide research project, a design charrette, an artwork research project, and a gardening research project covering African plants. The African Heritage Garden has a large flower bed in the center, formed into the shape of the African continent with landscaping bricks. 

In 2005, the Chicago Council of Elders blessed the African Heritage Garden with a traditional African Ceremony. During this ceremony the garden was recognized as an “official” place of culture and community. The Council of Elders granted permission to establish the garden as a family place of enjoyment, education, and culture.

The garden is set along Central Park avenue, an important North/South “mile street” whose street-corners used to be occupied by three-story brick apartment buildings, built at the turn of the century, most of which have been demolished following disinvestment in the neighborhood. A few beautiful examples remain within a block or two of the African Heritage Garden. The African Heritage Garden is protected by NeighborSpace

  • Speaker Bios 

Selma Sims, agronomist and the manager of Homan Rails Farm, has developed and implemented science lessons based on the farm. Once a week, students work on the farm during their biology class.

Dr. Myra Samson Ed.D. Principal & Chief Education Officer of  CCA Academy. She founded CCA in 1978. Chicago’s Expo for Today’s Black Woman honored her as the 2004 Phenomenal Woman in Community Service. 

Nancy Zook has worked in the North Lawndale community for the past 12 years. She directs the sustainability, art and urban agriculture programming at CCA Academy, a campus of Youth Connection Charter School.

Annamaria Leon is a certified Permaculture Designer and Teacher, Co-Owner of Homan Grown, L3C, a social enterprise focused on propagating urban durable perennials, and on creating regenerative edible and ornamental landscapes. 

Brittany Harthan  is an educator and grower from the Chicagoland area. She studied Environmental Education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and Present Tense Farm in the Seattle area. She believes experiential learning and teaching about growing food, herbs and flowers can help repair relationships with land, as well as help create opportunities for Chicagoans, while bringing joy through the love of the growing process.

Pastor Reshorna M. Fitzpatrick is the founder and Pastor of Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, a 501c3 organization with a mission of faithfully caring for families and the earth. 

Dr. Shemuel Israel’s area of special interest is soil health, plant health, and human health. Dr. Israel currently serves as the president of the North Lawndale Greening Committee, serves on the board of NeighborSpace, and serves as a chapter leader mentor for the Chicago Chapter of the Bionutrient Food Association. 

Karen B. Castleberry, a true humanitarian, a caregiver, mother of two adopted children and a foster mother, is very active in the North Lawndale Neighborhood where she was born and reared.

Blanche Killingsworth is the chairwoman of the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society, a North Lawndale resident since 1962 she worked at the Sears complex as a teenager.

  • Movie Production

Simeon Frierson is a cinematographer and photographer in Chicago. He is the founder of Visual Manifesto, LLC. He loves being behind and in front of the camera, expressing himself through visual art.

Jay Simon grew up Outwest and currently resides in North Lawndale. Jay Simon Photography is a portrait, architecture, and lifestyle photography and curation studio. Jay enjoys documenting and capturing vulnerable candid moments. He appreciates the people he meets, the places he goes, the hours he keeps and the spontaneity in every shot.

Jonathan Kelley is the co-founder of the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, a neighborhood museum inside a shipping container at the Spaulding Memorial Garden, 16th & Spaulding. 

  • Moderator 

Odile Compagnon is a licensed architect with a practice, Odile Compagnon Architect,  in Chicago and in Paris, France as well as a professorship at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture and Designed Objects. She has taught classes at SAIC’s North Lawndale campus where her students have engaged in meaningful design collaborations with neighborhood organizations. As a design advisor to the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC)’s Greening Open Space, Water, Soil and Sustainability committee, Odile creates blueprints and drawings that speak about the community’s strong vision and intentional purpose.

This video and program are dedicated to the memory of the beautiful Aaliyah Benka.

PermaPark, August 2018

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